First, Take the Risk. Then Think Quality.; Graham Knight Knew a Reputation for Top Work Would Pay Off for His Production Company

The Washington Post
Author: Joyce, Amy
Aug 10, 1998
Section F Page 16
Subjects: Chief executive officers; Corporate profiles; Video industry

Graham Knight is the picture of a successful entrepreneur.

As president and CEO of KnightScenes Inc., a District film and video production company, he doesn’t advertise. He has only six employees. He started in 1994 with a telephone, a laptop and $500. Now his company is generating almost $2 million in sales, and it can add two Emmy nominations for a Discovery Channel documentary on the Vietnam War to its portfolio.

KnightScenes has worked because the company plays to two of Knight’s strengths. “I get to marry my creative abilities with my business sense,” said Knight, who has a degree in economics. “Creative people tend not to be good money people.” That’s definitely not the case with Knight, who has gone from sleeping on the floor because his bedroom/office was overrun with work to operating a company with two offices in just two years.

Today, KnightScenes produces and is in the process of syndicating “Writer’s Block,” a discussion show that features nonfiction writers, and has done projects for Fox Television, the Discovery Channel, ABC Television and PBS, among others. It also produces satellite teleconferences and an interactive video conference for the Department of Energy and the Justice Department.

After studying economics in school, Knight found there was nothing he wanted to do with his degree. So he took a career seminar and wrote down the attributes of his dream job. He said he wanted to wear jeans every day, wanted a stressful environment and wanted to produce something daily.

Not long after he took that personality test, he found himself on the production team of a television news channel in Denver, where he quickly moved up the ranks. In 1990, he helped launch “Fox Morning News.” And then he went on to direct “America’s Most Wanted” for almost three years. Although he was happy directing a network show, he said he “got into a creative conflict” with one of the producers. That’s when everything turned around.

“I knew I could either go back and do what I was doing for someone else, or I could risk it all and do what I wanted to do,” he said.

He risked it, and that risk has paid off. Making his way as a freelancer from project to project, Knight took his $500 and became KnightScenes Inc., gradually building a small base of customers who have come to depend on KnightScenes for documentaries, corporate image and training videos, among other related projects.

But the key, he said, was getting those first jobs. “We’ll do a project and not make any money just to prove ourselves” to prospective customers, he said. He didn’t want to do the advertising, the networking and the power lunches that often go along with winning clients. He just wanted to show them what he could do and hope they would pass the word along.

“The most important thing is keeping the clients you have. Everything’s been word of mouth,” he said. “My biggest client {DOE} was passed to me because someone else was too busy” to do the project.

Keeping busy with a small number of clients is also a rule he determined for his company early on. “If you have fewer clients, you can give them your best work,” he said. It “keeps you out of overcommittedness.” So to prove that, he said, KnightScenes has “raised the bar” on the videos it produces. “It may be a little more expensive, but we drive home what we need to say. No one falls asleep with our shows” — even if they are training videos, he said.

Making a detailed business plan for the future is not feasible for KnightScenes. Knight projects what amount of business he will do up to a year in advance and tries to manage his cash flow for the upcoming year based on previous work. But, he said, “that’s a little nerve-racking. We can’t predict what’s going to happen next year. . . . Some days I don’t know what’s coming in the next three to six months.”

To save on costs, he leases most of his equipment, has a “zero-dollar ad budget” and does not take out loans. “The economics degree never really made sense until I had my own company,” he said.

Knight said owning his own company has been a “blessing and a curse.” He will spend hours updating a new laptop, and then, while on the way to editing a piece of a documentary, get a call from his accountant. “It’s a full-time job running the company and working for the company,” he said. “I’m hoping we can grow to the point where I can afford an editor so I can focus on running the business.”

The Discovery Channel’s Bob Reid, executive producer of “Operation Homecoming” who worked with KnightScenes on the TV documentary marking the 25th anniversary of the return of POWs from Vietnam, said he was interested in quality, not size, when choosing a production company. “Sometimes the biggest operations are not as creative, outstanding. Sometimes a small mom-and-pop operation can produce huge quality.”

The documentary, which was written, produced, directed and edited by KnightScenes for the Discovery Channel and aired this year, was nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards, for outstanding nonfiction special and picture editing. Graham laughs that the biggest thrill about the nomination is that KnightScenes is competing against Spike Lee.

“Even before those nominations, we had already committed another project to them as a follow-up, one of our most important projects,” said Reid. That next work will be a documentary on the Washington Monument for its reopening in July 2000. “The best endorsement we can give a company is to give them another project,” he said.

There’s no real trick to getting to where KnightScenes did, according to Knight. But the saying that ” ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ has bailed me out,” he said. “We started with no programming at all. In four years we have built a great corporate base.”

Most days, Knight reminds himself of Jimmy Stewart’s character, George Bailey, in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Bailey is able to close the day at his savings and loan relieved that he has squeaked by with $2 left.

Now, Knight said, he just can’t wait to tell people that he lost an Emmy to Spike Lee.

Resume Graham Knight Age: 37 Married: this past July 4 Two children: Zachary, 15, who is in Amsterdam playing soccer with the Olympic Development Camp, and Ashley, 11 Education: BA in economics from the University of Colorado Business strategy: “The most important thing is keeping the clients you have. … If you have fewer clients, you can give them your best work.” Hobbies, interests: Sails and rides horses; considers himself an environmentalist, which explains the large amount of work he does for the Energy Department. “I make the office nuts, telling them to turn off all the lights.” Favorite movie: “Jerry Maguire”: “That’s my story … I’ve been there.” Bedside reading: “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer




Graham Knight, Filmmaker
Isomer Media, LLC

Designed and built on Apple MacBook Pro Retina with Retina Display. Photography and video taken on Apple iPad Pro 9.7" and Apple iPhone 6S.